by Khanh Linh
Spreading the word: Nguyen Duc Huynh answers questions from a student at Le Loi High School in central Quang Tri Province to increase young people's awareness about UXOs. VNS Photo Coutersy of Nguyen Duc Huynh
Nguyen Duc Huynh used to be a shy and lonely boy, who didn't even dare to look at himself in the mirror after a tragic accident stole his face when he was four.
The sudden explosion of a leftover napalm bomb, which was dropped on Viet Nam more than 20 years ago during the US invasion, left him covered in scars and a deformed face.
He had difficulty eating and struggled to smile. Other children called him "monster" and he became isolated.
Huynh, 21, is now a college student and a leading campaigner for raising public awareness about unexploded ordnance (UXO) while supporting organisations for bomb and mine victims in his homeland in the central province of Quang Tri. He has set up a website, www.nannhanbommin.com, to help disseminate information about the issue.
"I created this website to tell the stories of many UXO victims who are disabled and struggle to support themselves and their families. It also acts as a forum for the victims, especially young people, to share their difficulties and connect with others," Huynh said.
"Most of them are poor and too shy to go out or speak with strangers," he said.
The war has been over for a long time, but many innocent people are still paying the price today.
Big heart: Huynh visits Ho Van Lai, a UXO victim who lost two legs, one hand and one eye due to a UXO accident.
Figures from the Ministry of National Defence show that Quang Tri was the worst affected area with more than 83 per cent of the total cultivation land still contaminated with unexploded bombs and mines.
Nearly 2,620 local people have been killed and thousands seriously injured since the end of the war in 1975. Currently, about 6.6 million hectares of land needs to be cleared and it is estimated that will take up to 300 years.
Huynh said many organisations, both foreign and domestic, have co-operated and given technical and financial support to clear UXOs from Viet Nam.
He said the website, together with personal stories of victims, would help other victims who had lost body parts or suffered serious disfigurement to regain their self-confidence and reintegrate into the community.
The 21-year-old said he hated recalling the worst day of his life, when he had been on his way to school with his brother.
The two children looked on as one of their neighbour's tried to do something with a big bomb. Just a few moments later, a sudden huge flame hit the two boys.
The man died immediately and Huynh's face and body were seriously burnt. Seeing the smoke coming off his body, he fainted.
Several years after the accident, a foreign journalist visited Huynh's village and made a documentary film about the boy. The film was entitled The Boy with No Face and was released in March 2003 to much acclaim.
Guran Arvinius, an ordinary Swedish citizen, was deeply moved by the film and decided to take action and get Huynh a new face.
After 12 operations in both Viet Nam and the US, his face has been restructured, but the scars remain.
"It looks much better now," Huynh said, smiling. "It used to be so ugly that I didn't want to go to school and always hid my face with both hands whenever a stranger looked at me."
"People less fortunate than me still need help," he said.
Last February, he and a group of volunteers held talks with students from the Le Loi High School in Quang Tri to raise their awareness about the dangers of UXOs in their hometown. Through question-and-answer games, the students improved their knowledge about UXOs and its victims.
Many participants were touched by the story of Ho Van Lai, a student from the school and a UXO victim who lost both legs, one hand and one eye but still managed to continue his studies.
After his story had been on the website for a few months, donations flooded in to encourage Lai to continue his studies.
Huynh said he was happy to organise a field trip for overseas students to visit UXO victims in Quang Tri's Dong Ha Town in July.
He is currently preparing for the annual Youth Leaders Forum in Vientiane, Laos, from November 8-12 to "take the next step to ban cluster bombs".
Huynh said all of his efforts served the one purpose of helping other UXO victims.
"I wish to have a stable job and open a cafe of my own, so that I can help other victims to have steady jobs and incomes," he said.
Huynh said he received a lot of help from different people.
"Now I want to help others in return and I hope many others will also join in to ease the pain of those who are less fortunate," Huynh said. VNS